Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Lahoud (13), defender Fabinho (33), midfielder Michael Farfan (21) and forward Conor Casey (6) try to block a free kick during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Sporting KC in Kansas City, Kan., Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (AP Photo)

Homefield advantage is one of the most popular talking points in any sport.

In many of those sports, there is a tangible advantage to being the home team. Home baseball teams get to hit last and can even alter their stadiums to suit their strengths. Home hockey teams get to make the last line change and play the matchup game. Home football teams urge their fans to make noise when opponents are on offense and hinder play-calling at the line.

In soccer, people love to talk about loud stadiums, intimidating atmospheres and bumpy pitches. But in reality, there really is no practical advantage to being the home team. Sure, fans are loud, and occasionally you have to deal with a turf field on the road (I'm looking at you, Seattle, Portland and New England). But in reality, there isn't really any play-calling that can be prevented by crowd noise, and as long as you avoid the flying bags of urine at the Azteca, you can play the same game you play at home.

The problem is that nearly every single person in the soccer world thinks otherwise. More than any sport, you'll hear coaches and players readily admit to "playing for a result" on the road. Or "we're happy to get out of here with a point."

And it's not all quotes and rhetoric. Teams openly admit to changing their tactics and formations just to get that road point or simply to give themselves a chance. No one is seemingly worse in that regard than John Hackworth.

Last weekend in Kansas City, Hackworth trotted out a very defensive-minded formation, going with Michael Lahoud and leaving Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux on the bench. In many ways it made perfect sense against a strong team like Sporting. And in the end, the Union got three crucial points that put them back closer (at least in my book) to a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs.

The problem comes with the Union come back to PPL Park, as they will Saturday against a VERY bad Toronto FC team.

As I wrote last week, soccer fans expect to see a fun style and they want to see goals. Coaches -- and likely players -- know this. So the pressure amps up at home, and people like Hackworth know they are "supposed" to win at home. Not just win, but win "with style," and give the fans something to cheer about.

Players also likely know this, meaning wing backs like Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis fly forward a little more often to join the attack. Or midfielders go for the longer, more dangerous home run pass.

If you watched any of Friday's game in Kansas City, you could tell that the Union were more than happy to sit back and let Sporting possess the ball. They stayed home defensively and played an ugly game, "parking the bus" in the back and waiting for a chance to counter-attack. Eventually, it led to a win.

This Saturday night, against a bad team at PPL Park, Hackworth will more than likely name an attack-minded roster. He'll go with two strikers instead of one, likely sit Lahoud and invite Williams, Gaddis or Fabinho to go forward up the wing.

It hasn't worked.

The Union have scored just five more goals at home this season than their opponents -- the third-worst differential in the league behind basement-dwellers Chivas USA and Toronto FC. On the road, however, the Union have a goal differential of minus-six -- a number that while seemingly unimpressive, ranks in the top third of the league.

I'm not arguing that Hackworth should bunker in at home and play for a lucky win. I want to see goals as much as anyone else. But there needs to be a middle ground. And there needs to be a way for the Union to score goals at home without leaving gaping holes in the back.

The Union tied Toronto back in April at PPL Park. Toronto was just as bad back then as they are now.

Hackworth can't afford a draw on Saturday night. And if that means he has to win ugly, then he needs to ignore the expectations and do whatever it takes.

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.